Greg Hansen: What a run: Amphi grad aided Ryan, Verlander

2012-10-17T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: What a run: Amphi grad aided Ryan, VerlanderGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 17, 2012 12:00 am  • 

You could write a long story, maybe a book, about the baseball career of Glenn Ezell. No, forget that. It should be a movie. "Bull Durham II" and maybe "III."

Forty-four years on the road: manager of the Niagara Falls Pirates, the Amarillo Gold Sox and, of course, the Toledo Mud Hens. Forty-four years wearing every conceivable uniform: the Tidewater Tides, the Reno Silver Sox and, naturally, the Durham Bulls.

"Nuke" LaLoosh? Ezell can go you one better: He was Nolan Ryan's catcher for the 1966 Greenville Mets of the Western Carolinas League.

In the spring of 1971, Ezell was the last man cut as the Minnesota Twins broke spring training. He was 26. That's the closest he ever got, a sniff, of becoming a big-league catcher, a smack of reality that might have broken a lot of men. Instead, it was the start of Ezell's second life in baseball.

"Well, hoss," he says now, "that wasn't the first time I thought my baseball career was over. It's a pretty amazing story."

Glenn Wayne Ezell, one of the most prominent baseball men in Tucson history, grew up in a small brick house across the street from Keeling Elementary School, north of Grant Road and just west of First Avenue. His father, Ron Ezell, a crane operator for Tucson Transfer, had moved Glenn and his siblings to Tucson from Kentwood, La.

"I was 2 when we moved to Tucson; my dad had asthma, we came here for his health," Glenn remembers. "I've seen pictures of the broken-down old buggy we drove to Tucson. My dad and my uncle had tied our belongings to the top of the car. I just laugh every time I look at that old picture."

A few months ago, after receiving notice of his selection to the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame, Ezell pulled out some old boxes and read through the clippings and yellowed photographs of his early days, his Tucson days, as a ballplayer.

He was absorbed by affection for his hometown.

Ezell, the personnel director who helped to develop Detroit Tigers such as ace Justin Verlander and the coach who shared a dugout with Hall of Famers such as George Brett, knew that he wouldn't have spent a single day of his 13 seasons in the big leagues without those he remembered from those old newspaper clippings: Dean Metz and Bobby Hart and Jim Wing.

"Those men are the foundation of 'Easy' Ezell," he says. "Jack Watson, George Genung, Merle McCain

, John Tissaw

. … God almighty, there are no better men than those I had the fortune to work with in Tucson."

At Sunday's Hall of Fame induction ceremony, it is customary for those honored to fill a 24 x 36 space with, in this case, the Life and Times of Glenn Ezell of St. Petersburg, Fla.

"I don't have enough space," he says, laughing. "There are too many people I want to acknowledge - where I came from, what I learned there - this is a big event for the Ezell family. I'm very honored."

An all-state catcher at Amphi High School in 1962, Ezell was set to be part of the UA baseball dynasty, then operated by Frank Sancet

. But in his first semester of college, Ezell was floored by mononucleosis, unable to attend school, ineligible to play baseball for the Wildcats.

"I didn't have any money, and so I dropped out of school," Ezell recollects. "I looked for a job without any success; I told my mom, 'If I don't have a job by Friday, I'm going into the Marine Corps. I thought my baseball career was over."

Against his self-induced deadline, Ezell got a job with Tucson Gas and Electric. He wanted to be a meter reader but was instead hired first to work the mail room, and later fixing gas pipelines.

At night and on weekends, he continued to play semipro baseball for Tucson's iconic Jack Ellis Sporting Goods, a regional power in those days. In a game in Phoenix, tipped off by venerable Amphi coaches Hart and Metz, Ezell was spotted and evaluated by Arizona Western College coach Jack Watson.

At AWC, Ezell became a first-team NJCAA All-American. The Mets paid him a $5,000 bonus and for 44 years, until he was released as Detroit's director of player personnel in 2010, Ezell took advantage of that unexpected second chance.

"I coached Glenn in Little League, and I coached him as a freshman at Amphi," says Metz, later the baseball coach at CDO. "He was all baseball, a catcher and pitcher. Once, when we were playing against those great teams Ray Adkins had at Tucson High, Ray asked me who was going to pitch.

"I said, 'Ezell.'

"He said, 'Aw, crap.'

"And so we beat 'em," Metz recalled. "Glenn could really play the game."

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

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